Minnesota Partnership awards target cancer and neurological disease

Children's cancer, brain tumors, pancreatic cancer and a range of neurological conditions comprise the diseases targeted by this year's research projects selected by the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics.

Five competitive grants will help partnering researchers advance early studies in medical science affecting conditions that have statewide impact. Each project, which is a collaborative effort between a University of Minnesota investigator and a Mayo Clinic investigator, will take an approach that could not be pursued by either institution independently. This is the 17th anniversary for the state-funded awards, which this year provide medical researchers with $4.6 million.

The projects and awardees for 2020 are:

"Development of a High Throughput Label-Free Platform Integrating Electronic Nanosensors and Holographic Imaging for Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection"
Tianhong Cui, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and Martin Fernandez-Zapico, M.D., Mayo Clinic

This year, the American Cancer Society predicts more than 1,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer in Minnesota and over 800 deaths from the disease. These two researchers are trying to change those figures by developing a means to detect pancreatic cancer much earlier, allowing physicians to start treatment much sooner.

Cancer cells have different electrical and mechanical properties than healthy cells. The researchers hope to detect electrical differences using nanosensors, and detect the physical or mechanical differences using holographic images. The two combined technologies, if effective, could change diagnosis and drug screening for specific conditions.

"Mechanistic Dissection of the K27M Histone Mutation in Pediatric Gliomagenesis" Edward Hinchcliffe, Ph.D.,The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, and Jann Sarkaria, M.D., Mayo Clinic

This team is trying to learn enough about how errors in cell division cause brain cancers in children and why those tumors become aggressive. There is no cure or effective treatment for these children, but this research team will use the new gene editing tool CRISPR in the laboratory to explore how imbalanced chromosome development ― a major characteristic of pediatric brain tumors ― can be detected, allowing for the creation of potential treatments.

"Peptide-Guided Delivery System to Improve Treatment for Pediatric Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas"
Hongbo Pang, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and David Daniels, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic

One of the problems confronting physicians treating pediatric brain cancer, especially the tumors centered in the brainstem, is delivering drugs effectively into the solid tumor. This team, which consists of a basic scientist and a pediatric cancer surgeon, aims to change that by devising a new, more effective drug delivery system guided by a specialized form of peptides.

A solution is urgently needed as post-diagnosis survival rates now stand at only one year.

"Magnetic Nanodevice Arrays for the Treatment of Neurological Diseases"
Jianping Wang, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and Kendall Lee, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic

This team has a history of developing devices for deep-brain stimulation to treat neurological conditions. This plan is to develop a more advanced device ― an implantable chip array ― that is described as a flexible magnetic simulator. This new device could help treat a range of conditions, including Parkinson's disease, essential tremor and dystonia, as well as Tourette's syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. The new array would avoid the current need to reprogram existing devices when cells migrate around them and obstruct signals.

"Overcoming Hormone Therapy Resistance in ER+HER2 - Breast Cancer by Inhibition of Epoxyeicosatrienoic Acid Driven Signaling"
David Potter, M.D., Ph.D., University of Minnesota, and Matthew Goetz, M.D., Mayo Clinic

Every year, 40,000 women with metastatic breast cancer in the U.S. die because their tumor type resists hormone therapy. The latest drugs bring survival rates to just over three years.

This research team has discovered the usefulness of metformin, a diabetes drug, in this therapy, They have discovered that it is 200 times more active than currently used drugs in augmenting cancer therapy in these women. This team hopes to develop an even more effective analog of this compound and test it in phase one clinical trials at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic.